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by Archaeology Newsroom

A Woman’s Hair-Style and Headdress in Byzantium

The issue of a woman’s hair-style and headdress in Byzantium, although is especially interesting, has not been thoroughly studied as yet. Relevant information is supplied by certain epigrams of the Anlhoiogia Palatine, the sermons of the Church Fathers, texts of educational character and also by the romances of the Palae-ologan age. Through these sources we establish that women in the Byzantine age were especially concerned with their appearance and utilized all available means to beautify their looks. Thus, the most common hair-style was the braids, the bun and the ringlets. arranged like today’s hair-do, while the use of wig a contributed to the rich volume of hair. A net or a bonnet, holding the hair tightly, was the ordinary headdress that was usually complemented by the maphon-on, an ample piece of cloth covering the head and falling on the shoulders. Quite often, however, a long cloth enfolded the hair, like a turban, instead of the maphorion. The hagiological texts refer only to the life and martyrdom of holy women and not to their appearance.

In Byzantine art women with an uncovered head are depicted only in few occasions and represent characteristic iconographical types, such as the various personifications or Eve in scenes of the Old Testament. In the Christological or the Mariological cycles only the young girls or the maidservants are represented with the head uncovered. As a rule the female figures in Byzantine art wears the maphorion, although there are many representations of female donors whose headdress consists of a simple, short white cloth that reaches the shoulders. The depiction of the mid-wife in the Nativity of Christ is of special interest: this figure was particularly respected in Byzantine society, therefore the artists drew attention to her participation in the scene through her headdress, which, owing to its luxurious decoration or to its originality of form, is quite often very impressive.

On the other hand, while the sources are sparing as regards the real appearance of the ladies of aristocracy, their representation in art is characterized by striking luxury and stresses the individuality of the figure depicted. A kind of local fashion seems to appear after the Fourth Crusade (thirteenth cent.), which survives until today in the costumes of folk art.